For the first time in the history of Southington, the town will not have a mill rate by the charter-set deadline on the third Monday in May.
Democrats on the Board of Finance protested the approved 2012-13 budget on Wednesday evening by refusing to set the mill rate associated with it, leaving the town without a mill rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
After a heated debate over the budget process, Sandra Feld and Anthony Casale Jr. said they could not support the 27.48 mills associated with the approved budget and voted against setting the rate, leading the motion to fail and leaving the town without a tax rate for the first time ever.
“This is extremely disappointing and it’s something that shouldn’t be happening,” said Vice-Chairman Joseph Labieniec. “Section 730 of the town charter is very clear on duties of the Board of Finance. This is not a time to debate the budget, but rather a time to set the taxation rate based solely on the mathematics behind the budget passed.”
The political battle Wednesday night in the Council Chambers at began after Feld and Casale spoke out for the second time regarding a budget process that they called “unfair” and “without compromise,” both on a Board of Finance level and Town Council level.
Both were emotional and angry as they criticized chairman John Leary and the Republicans for being unwilling to make sacrifices and supporting "frivolous and unnecessary spending" in a tough economic year rather than finding ways to give more back to the taxpayers of Southington.
“This year’s budget process was the most disgraceful one I’ve ever witnessed,” Feld said. “If going to rubber stamp the managements proposals, why even bother having Board of Finance meetings? The Republicans on both Board of Finance and Town Council have rubber stamped it despite our constant objections.”
Labieniec and board member Wayne Stanforth each defended the process, saying the board held 12 hours of workshops and members spent countless time reviewing items.
Labieniec said there was compromise – a comment that Casale questioned – and that no one was left with the budget they wanted, but that the town has maintained services and is preparing for the future, all while lowering government spending from where it is right now.
But Feld and Casale said they would not support the proposed mill rate because they did not support the budget that it was based upon.
The setting of the mill rate is a formal process that requires the board use the approved budget to set taxes for the town to levy, effective July 1. Under town charter, the board is considered derelict in its responsibilities by not setting the mill rate by this time and will now be in violation of town charter, Labieniec explained.
The approved budget of $129.7 million cannot be altered at this time and was considered passed when it was passed . The vote on a mill rate is separate from the rest of the budget process.
The same budget, with only one $195,000 line item change, had been .
The board voted 3-2 in favor of passing the mill rate, but four votes are required to gain the decisive majority necessary to pass the rate. Leary was absent due to work responsibilities.
“There are only two possibilities left for this, as the town needs to have a mill rate set for June 30 in order to prepare tax bills,” Garry Brumback said after consulting with the town attorney by phone Wednesday night.
“The board can either abdicate its responsibilities and send the matter to the town council or they can set a special meeting and take up the matter again at the earliest convenience,” he said. “If the matter is not settled in that next meeting, it will need to be forwarded along to the council.”
The most likely date for a special meeting at this point would be on May 29. Board members agreed to try and set a meeting when all six members could be present, but Stanforth questioned whether the matter should not be forwarded to the council after the Board of Finance failed in it’s responsibilities.
“This is a mathematical question, not a philosophical question. I feel like if we are not able to come to an agreement, we should allow the matter to be forwarded on. We have a responsibility and by not passing the mill rate, we have failed in this,” Stanforth said.
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